11 Clinical Side-Effects of the Rabies Vaccine in Dogs

Mention the word “vaccination” in a crowd, and you’ll immediately divide the group into those for it, and those against it. It’s easy to worry about the side-effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs, when all you can find are sensationalized stories.

If you’ve ever had the flu shot, you might know what it feels like to end up with a lump where the injection was given. My arm hurts for a day or two after a vaccination, but it clears up pretty fast. 

It’s pretty much the same for dogs.  There’s a good chance your dog will experience mild side-effects and – yes – rarely, serious side-effects occur. Now, I’m going to show you the most common side-effects and a little on the more severe problems that can occur.

Sticking It To Your Dog Isn’t as Scary as You Thought

The first 8 side-effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs, include:

1.Discomfort and local swelling at the vaccination site.

It makes sense! Vaccinations are normally given as injections and whenever you stick a needle through skin, it’s going to get a little aggravated. This is temporary and is not harmful at all.

The poor dog in the next image looks a little put-out but none worse for wear after a rabies vaccination.

2. Mild Fever.

It’s not unusual for dogs to develop a mild fever after a vaccination.  Although vaccines do not contain live disease, they do create a temporary immune-response that tells the dog’s body, “Hey, let’s get busy fighting this new thing.”

As a result, the dog’s antibodies increase and the body learns how to fight the disease. That’s why we vaccinate, so dogs (and people) develop an immunity to dangerous viruses.

3. Nope – Not Hungry Mom.

Because of the sudden reaction of antibodies to “get to work”, the body slows down other functions including desire to eat. Dog’s bodies are no less phenomenal than our own.  Their systems know when to settle down so that the other important things happening can take effect.  It doesn’t take long, however, for your pooch to resume treat-begging.

4. No Thanks Mom. No Catching the Ball Today.

Of course you’d be worried if your dog suddenly decided he didn’t want to do his favorite activity! However, if your dog just had a rabies vaccination, there’s nothing to worry about. Let him sleep it off! By the next morning, you’re going to see a big difference in his/her energy. This is a common occurrence.

5. Mom! I’m All Dubbed Up!

Symptoms that resemble the common cold frequently occur after a rabies vaccination. Your dog might start sneezing, develop a mild cough, or even have a runny nose. Don’t forget this one because it could take up to 5 days for these types of symptoms to appear. By then, you might have forgotten all about the vaccine!  Don’t worry. These side-effects are not serious and will go away quickly.

6. Is That a Marble Under Your Skin or Did You Just Get Vaccinated?

Needles hurt a little bit and, because they pierce the skin, often develop a little swelling at the site of the injection  It makes sense.  Again, this is a common symptom and nothing to worry about.

7. Vomiting Over and Over and Over Again.

If your dog starts vomiting frequently after a rabies vaccination (or any vaccination), bring him/her to the vet.

8. Your Dog Can’t Stop Itching!

We’ve all seen dogs writhe around on their backs, blissfully getting that itchy spot. The difference with this, is that the dog will become frantically itchy. His/her skin will develop hives on the skin.

9. Face, neck or eye swelling.

If you’ve ever seen anybody suffer from anaphylaxis because of a peanut allergy or a bee sting, you’ll have a pretty good idea what this looks like. If you notice any facial swelling after a vaccination, don’t hesitate to bring your dog to the veterinarian. This can be treated, but it can’t be ignored. Ever seen anybody suffer from anaphylaxis because of a peanut allergy or a bee sting, you’ll have a pretty good idea what this looks like. If you notice any facial swelling after a vaccination, don’t hesitate to bring your dog to the veterinarian. This can be treated, but it can’t be ignored.

10. Severe coughing.

Again, this sort of rabies vaccination side-effect is rare. You might notice a slight cough along with other respiratory symptoms (sneezing, runny nose) up to 5 days post-vaccination. However, if the coughing becomes aggressive, you should take your dog to the veterinarian for evaluation.

11. Difficulty breathing.

If your dog is having difficulty breathing, you’ll see it in the rise and fall of his/her chest cavity. Your dog will be distressed and might paw at his/her mouth. As your dog tries to take in more oxygen, it might sound like he/she is coughing. This could go hand-in-hand with the symptom above.

The bottom line is that vaccinations in people and dogs are considered safe. Yes, there will always be some sort of risk when injecting medications into our bodies. That said, diseases like rabies are absolutely fatal and the risk of the vaccination far outweighs the deadly disease.

“Vaccination is a barbarous practice and one of the most fatal of all the delusions current in our time.

Conscientious objectors to vaccination should stand alone, if need be, against the whole world, in defense of their conviction.”
Mahatma Gandhi

The Anti-Vaxxers Are Wrong!

Unfortunately, there is an entire social community with an anti-vaccine agenda. That’s one of the perks of living in a developed country. The reason we’re not dying from previously fatal and infectious disease is because vaccinations have eradicated them.

A few of the myths about vaccinations include:

  • vaccinations use live-cultures that cause disease

None of the vaccinations approved for use in Canada and the United States use live cultures in their products.

  • vaccinations are full of harmful, toxic substances

Technically, there are some substances that – in clinically significant doses – might pose a threat. The reality is that things like Thimerosol (which is 50% mercury) makes up what amounts to the amount of mercury in a 3 ounce can of tuna. You’re not afraid of a little tuna are you?

  • vaccinations weaken the immune system

Weakening the immune system, in the clinical sense, consists of a long-term condition that leaves your dog vulnerable to a host of infectious disease and bacteria.  When a dog has a vaccine, his/her immune system builds antibodies that learn to fight deadly disease. Your dog might appear mildly sick (cold symptoms), but it isn’t from a “weakened immune system”.

Rabies is Fatal in Human Beings

If you’re thinking about not having your dog vaccinated, consider this:

Rabies vaccination of dogs is required by law in most states. In Canada, the rabies vaccination is only required in Ontario. That said, all ethical veterinarians will encourage the vaccination, especially in populations at greater risk. That population would include dogs that are more likely to encounter wildlife (rural areas).

Try out the lifestyle-based vaccine calculator. It was created by the AAHA and should give you a clearer picture on what you should do.



The smartest thing you can do for your dog is not listen to the rhetoric. Get solid facts from your veterinarian, or online through reputable sites.